OTTAWA — As a child, Cierra Johnson couldn’t decide whether she wanted to become a right-handed or left-handed hitter in volleyball.
So instead, she decided to not decide.
Johnson, now a junior hitter on the La Salle-Peru volleyball team, has the capability to hit either right- or left-handed.
“I’ve pretty much done it for my whole life, since I was maybe like 10-12 (years old),” Johnson said. “I think I didn’t know what hand I wanted to hit with so it was just whatever. Wherever the set is is what I hit it with, and I never know what hand I’m going to use when I go up.”
Tuesday at Ottawa, she used both effectively.
Johnson, who used one hand earlier in the season after suffering a minor shoulder strain, put down a team-high nine kills — including many in key moments — to help lift the Lady Cavaliers to a 25-11, 25-13 victory that spoiled the Lady Pirates’ Senior Night.
“I think she is the only player that I’ve ever had who can hit equally well both right-handed and left-handed,” L-P coach Mark Haberkorn said. “We have no idea which hand she is going to hit with and I don’t think she knows until the last second. That’s the way she came in and we let her hit like that. She hits like that in practice, and we have trouble stopping her in practice. Tonight, she had her best game day performance.”
Johnson, however, wasn’t the only one.
The Lady Cavs finished with 29 kills — 16 in the first set, 13 in the second set — to go with four blocks in a dominating effort.
“We had 29 kills, but a lot of that is a combination of great passing and excellent setting,” Haberkorn said. “Tonight, it was Cierra’s night to lead us in kills, but we have strong hitters all the way across the front line.”
In addition to Johnson, sophomore outside hitter Taylor Gibson had seven kills, senior middle hitter Rachel Hunt put down six kills, junior outside hitter Shana Puetz had four kills and junior middle hitter Ellie Senica added three.
No Ottawa player finished with more than four kills.
“Our front row is pretty strong,” Johnson said. “Taylor Gibson, she can just cream the ball, and our middles are really good, too. Tonight, the sets were just perfect. We were ready.”
The Lady Cavs proved that at the start of the first set as they raced to a 7-1 lead before Ottawa rallied to pull to within three at 10-7, 11-8 and 12-9.
However, L-P countered with an 11-0 run to turn the 12-9 advantage into a 23-9 cushion that it used to finish the set.
The Lady Cavs also used runs in the second set to prevail.
Tied at 5-5, L-P took the lead with a 5-0 rally to take a 10-5 cushion. After an L-P hitting error ended the run, the Lady Cavs went on a 7-2 surge to take a 17-7 cushion that they used to close out the set.
“L-P just has that tradition and they expect to win when they walk onto the floor,” said Ottawa coach Sue Staus, who lives in Peru and had two daughters play for Haberkorn at L-P. “That’s a great thing to have. I think we have that in our girls basketball program where they have the winning tradition and the regional championships and plaques to prove it. I know L-P volleyball and it’d be nice to build a tradition like that.”
Junior Jessica Wignes had five digs and four kills for Ottawa (18-14-1, 4-5 NIB 12 West), while Tayah Guerrero had 10 assists.
Gibson had 12 points, three digs and two aces to go with the seven kills, while Puetz had seven digs and Katie Olson had 23 assists, 15 points and three digs for L-P (28-3, 9-0 NIB 12 West), which can complete a perfect conference season with a victory in the regular season finale Thursday at home against Streator.
Note: The L-P sophomore team prevailed 25-13, 25-6, while the Ottawa freshman squad defeated the L-P Red 25-23, 26-24, 25-19. The L-P Green team took the freshman B match 25-14, 25-27, 16-14.
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.